When I came across this relatively new fantasy series by Modesitt, I decided to hunt down the first book. After all, anything written by this experienced and prolific author is always worth checking out – and this one is certainly worth the effort.
Although Rhennthyl is the son of a leading wool merchant in L’Excelsis, the capital of Solidar and the most powerful nation on Terahnar, he has spent years becoming a journeyman artist. He is skilled and diligent enough to be considered for the status of master artisan – in another two years. In a single moment, Rhenn’s entire life is transformed when his master patron is killed in a flash fire and Rhenn discovers he is an imager – one of the few in the entire world of Terahnar who possess the power to visualize things and make them real.
Now he must leave his family and join the Collegium of Imagisle, where because of their powers (including the ability to do accidental magic even while asleep) and because they are both feared and vulnerable, imagers live separately from the rest of society. In this new life, Rhenn discovers that all too many of the ‘truths’ he knew were nothing of the sort and that every day brings a new threat to his life. He makes a powerful enemy while righting a wrong and begins to learn to live a life doing magic in secret.
This is an intriguing, layered world that closely resembles the Renaissance period in its technology and cut-throat attitude to other states and religions. Politically, Solidar is powerful but isolated by its religious belief that Naming a deity is well on the way to blasphemy – but the dealbreaker is Solidar’s tolerance of imagers. As Rhenn learns more during his highly specialised training, he discovers that Solidar’s supremacy comes at a very high price…
I’ve read grumbles about the relatively slow pacing of the storyline – however I didn’t find this a problem. Modesitt’s strength is establishing textured, believable worlds where his characters can discuss and critique their experiences of different forms of governance. This is grown up fantasy – where notions of tolerance versus enlightened dictatorship, colliding religious views, and the consequences of power and its abuse can all be examined.
However this book isn’t a philosophical musing on politics and religion – it’s a fantasy adventure about a powerful magic-user who is coming to terms with what he is capable of doing. And once more, Modesitt gives us a demonstration of how to construct a magical system. Imagers don’t live in the city of L’Excelsis – it’s too dangerous. They cannot even have a normal married life, because when they fall asleep, they cannot control their dreams… I love the world. I love the way that Modesitt builds the layers and complexity throughout the book without compromising the pace and narrative tension.
Any niggles? Well, we access the whole book in Rhenn’s first person viewpoint, and while he is a well defined character, I would have preferred to have seen a bit more angst when he finally walks away from the ashes of his career as an artist. His initial time at the Collegium seemed a bit too smooth. I also feel that he deals with some of the events with great coolness and resourcefulness – and I’d like to see him flounder, showing more vulnerability and horror at the situations with which he is having to cope. Having said that, set against the overall quality of this first book in the series, it isn’t a major flaw – and I’m sure Modesitt has plenty of nasty experiences in store for Rhenn in future. One thing I do know – I’ll be hunting down the second book in the series to find out exactly what happened, next. If you enjoy intelligent, well written high fantasy with interesting things to say about the human condition in amongst all the mayhem and magic, then I’d advise you to look out a copy of Imager – you’re in for a treat.